Become More Creative in 20 Minutes — Guaranteed

If you attend creative-department meetings regularly, maybe you’ve noticed that very little creative discussions ever occur.

For the uninitiated, a creative-department meeting usually involves bitching about clients, wondering why your company won’t order the latest ADOBE upgrade, musing about why the art directors were late for the meeting (there is no easy answer to this one), and everything else under the sun EXCEPT creativity.

It’s time to put the creativity back into creative-department meetings. There is a reason we all got into this business in the first place: to create. Every few weeks, suspend the war stories of lousy creative briefs, discussion of salaries at competing agencies, and the urge to compare black clothing and edgy accessories, and give your team a creative kick in the butt. Here’s an easy way to do it:

Prep Time: 43 seconds

Let’s assume you have a group of 14 people. The group will be divided into teams of two so you’ll need seven pieces of paper. Write one of the following magazine titles on each:

Rolling Stone
Sewing Digest
Road & Track
The Ronald Reagan Appreciation Society Weekly Reader
Mother Jones

You get the idea. One piece of paper per team. Don’t let anyone see what is on the pieces of paper. More on that later.

Now it’s time to create the teams. Here’s a quick way to do it: Put pairs of playing cards in a hat, and have everyone draw a card. Those with matching cards are a team. It’s quick and democratic. Now that you have the teams set, ask each team to go somewhere in the room where they will be comfortable and won’t be disturbed by the other groups.

Place a beer on a table in the center of the room. I tend to lean toward the more interesting microbrews. Something with a cool label helps, too. Once you’ve gotten everyone’s attention with the dramatic unveiling of the beer bottle, read the following aloud (I’m doing the heavy lifting for you here):

    “You have a magazine title on a piece of paper. When I say ‘Go,’ create two different full-page magazine ads that would be appropriate for your publication. Don’t worry about reply devices, phone numbers, or any other anal-retentive questions. Once we start, you will not be able to ask any questions, and each team will have to present both of their ideas to the rest of the group in 20 minutes. Go.”

An amazing thing starts to happen: Creative people are actually caught being creative. Without restraints of client expectations or watering down an idea until it resembles middle-of-the-road mush, writers and art directors do what they love most… create.

Once the 20 minutes is over, say “Stop.” You’ll hear people groaning because they enjoyed it so much. Now, go around the room and ask one member of each group to present the ideas. (This will tell you whether your group needs some help in their presentation skills. How often do you offer everyone in your group help on becoming more effective presenters?)

Now it’s time for the second part of the fun. If you do the exercise correctly and haven’t spilled the beans, nobody but you will know that a different magazine is written on each sheet. Everyone always assumes that they’re all working on the same assignment.

Optional: Once everyone has presented, vote for a winner. Hopefully you’ve saved the other five beers that came with the original six-pack. Present the winning team with the six-pack. If you really want to go the extra mile, present everyone with a beer. It’s a great way to bring a group closer together.

I like this exercise because:

  1. You can do it anywhere; no special room is required.

  2. It involves beer, which usually facilitates the creative process.
  3. Everyone can get involved. You don’t have to be in a creative department for this to work.
  4. After working together as a team, each new pair now has a reason to say hello to each other in the halls.

What’s amazing is the long-term result of this simple exercise. When I worked for a large credit card company, we had jaded art directors tacking their beer ad to the wall in their cubicles. High praise indeed.

Give this a try where you work. Hopefully you won’t have to submit a proposal in triplicate to get on the agenda. And, if you do try it, please let me know how it goes. We’ll share the results in an upcoming column.

Related reading